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Dec 01

How to blend Agile and Classic management methods within a single Portfolio

Some authors predict that hybrid organizations will soon dominate the business landscape. The term hybrid in this specific context indicates a setup in which agile and classic teams coexist in a single organization. Project Management Institute states openly that hybrid is the next step for organizations to be taken once they implement the principles of agile. We also keep hearing from BigPicture users: let us mix agile and classic methodologies. In this article we’ll touch on the software aspect: (1) how to make a mix of PM methodologies a reality within an organization; (2) how to allow for a collection of management tools, rather than a single one; (3) how to keep the middle- to upper-level reporting consistent in a multi-tool environment. On top of that, we will demonstrate how BigPicture Enterprise 8 facilitates all three.

Surprising studies

According to Gartner, even in the software industry, a mere 46% of organizations use agile for most or all of their application development. A further 41% claim to be using agile for less than half of their application development. Interestingly, among those researched by Gartner, it was business managers who adopted agile more often than software developers: 63% of the surveyed software companies use or plan to use agile on the business side, while 53% for the actual software development.1

For those who swing between agile and hybrid approaches, PMI‘s 2018 Pulse of the Profession®, page 11, is a must. Not only did the researchers find that 44% of ‘Champions’ used predictive (classic) approaches, 30% – agile, and 23% – hybrid, but they actually positioned the last one as the next step in the project management “timeline”, directly after agile. In an effort to forecast  the future of agile transformation the researchers brilliantly asked ‘How has your organization’s agility changed over the last five years?’ 19% of respondents said that the agility has become much greater, 52% – slightly greater, 20% – no change, 6% – the agility has become slightly less present, 3% – much less.2

KPMG took yet another approach to determine where the agile transformation is heading and how it is progressing. The respondents had been asked about ‘Current position vs. expectation in 3 years’ in terms of the level of an organization at which the agile transformation is and will be happening. ‘Agile at Enterprise’ recorded the largest increase (10% today, 32% in three years), followed by ‘Agile at Selected Functions’ (14% today, 23% in three years), ‘Agile at Scale’ (8%, 15%), ‘Agile at core of IT’ (18%, 21%), ‘Agile pilots’ (38%, 5%), and ‘Not using Agile’ (12%, 4%).3

While Gartner focuses on the software industry, KPMG’s report is slightly biased towards IT (44% of the respondents). PMI, in turn, explores a broad spectrum of industries – from IT to construction, government, healthcare, or automotive.

Why do enterprises go agile?

It all boils down to keeping up with the pace of technological change dictated by startups or even big tech companies, such as Google or Amazon. PMI names ‘Ability Is Agility’ a top tenet of leading-edge organizations.4 HBR’s authors rightly ask: What if a company could achieve positive returns with 50% more of its new-product introductions? What if marketing programs could generate 40% more customer inquiries? What if human resources could recruit 60% more of its highest-priority targets? What if twice as many workers were emotionally engaged in their jobs? Agile has brought these levels of improvement to IT. The opportunity in other parts of the company is substantial.5

Despite all the benefits that agility brings, some organizations still choose not to go agile. Regulated industries, safety-critical products, such as automobile or aircraft development are one example. The US Department of Defense Software Systems openly requires the waterfall/predictive approach from their suppliers. Other examples are businesses dependent on subcontractors, organizations whose teams are dispersed around the world, the meat and potato type of businesses whose products call for little to none innovation, or those who tried to be agile but it just didn’t work. Healthcare, banks, insurance companies, the construction industry – their core operations don’t quite match agile (innovating in these industries is quite another story, though). Agile is suitable where problems are complex and solutions are unknown, such as product development functions, marketing projects, strategic-planning activities, supply-chain challenges, and resource allocation decisions. Agile tends not to be appropriate in routine operations such as plant maintenance, purchasing, sales calls, or accounting.5

Entirely agile or, perhaps,  hybrid?

Agile transformation is a long and complex process. It cannot be done overnight. Consequently, initiatives conducted in diverse methodologies often coexist. Moreover, TQ, or technology quotient organizations, as PMI calls leading companies, are much more likely to use a mix of agile and classic (hybrid) project management (60%) than the TQ laggards (29%).6 And for those who are entirely agile PMI further claims: (…) there is little research on how to manage a set of agile projects at the project portfolio level. What limited research that does exist often assumes that portfolio-level agility can be achieved by simply scaling project level agile approaches such as Scrum.7

We think that an ‘umbrella’ software tool might be the right answer for modern hybrid and agile portfolios.

What tool for managing the portfolios in the 2020s?

What does the umbrella-type software, such as BigPicture, bring to the table? Sure, it has all the standard project management tools, such as the Gantt charts, roadmaps, resources, and risk matrices. But it can also communicate with third-party task managers so that the umbrella can take over what other tools are not that good at. Now, why is such a super-tool relevant to hybrid portfolios?

We identified five disparities that make hybrid portfolios problematic in practice:

  1. predictive planning vs. iterative planning
  2. precise timeline vs. draft roadmap
  3. individuals vs. teams assigned
  4. man-days vs. story points
  5. many tools coexisting within an organization

Let’s take a closer look at why portfolio managers are struggling with each of those.

Timeline planning vs. iterative planning

While the classic, predictive PM methodologies use the timeline, hours, and deadlines, the agile teams think in terms of timeboxes and story points. Consequently, each of the two worlds resorts to its own planning tools, be it a physical board or a software solution. In such a multi-tool environment questions arise at the top management level – how are decision-makers going to track the progress of a hybrid portfolio, with many sources of truth? And as per the KPMG research cited above, it’s the senior level management who’s about to experience the agile transformation to the greatest extent in the following years.

Precise timeline vs. draft roadmap

The timeline-based classic project managers schedule with 1-day precision. Agile teams, on the other hand, use less strict, iterative roadmaps which are more forgiving if a team cannot or does not want to complete any chunk of work during a 2-week iteration. Now, which of the tools promotes completing any given task as planned, whatever the cost? On the other hand, which of the two tools stimulates the creativity of a team better?

Individuals vs. teams assigned

With predictive PM methodologies, it’s an individual who is accountable for getting a task to an end. Quite differently in the agile environments – here, teams are assigned to the chunks of work. Believe it or not, but teams are way more difficult to map into a computer program than individuals, and a multitude of implementations may exist. Therefore, potential conflicts have to be resolved by an umbrella piece of software at the portfolio level.

Man-days vs. story points

Classic project management makes use of the hours and man-days, while agile teams are encouraged to use less intuitive story points. There is no universal converter between days and story points, as the “value” of a story point is team-specific. Again, an umbrella software solution can unify the theoretically incompatible units.

Many tools existing within an organization

Nobody is omnipotent, and portfolio managers are no exception to that rule. Imagine three project management tools existing in a company, and a portfolio manager who was given access to each of those tools. A pretty steep learning curve, isn’t it? Vastness of time needed to assemble data into the consistent portfolio-level reports, every week, right? How about the umbrella software solution that is capable of producing a portfolio-level progress report in seconds?

All five challenges can be met with BigPicture 8. Let’s look closer at how BigPicture tackles them.

Start with accurate portfolio mapping

It can be a challenge to map both predictive and agile planning in a single software package. While departments and teams that use waterfall methodologies usually compose their projects of stages, the agile teams use sprints in Scrum or ARTs/PIs/iterations in SAFe. The table below describes how organizations cope with the featured challenges in traditional ways as opposed to how this can be done with BigPicture.

Traditional way BigPicture way
How would a traditional portfolio manager deal with a mixed, classic-agile portfolio? Presentations and spreadsheets are proven and flexible tools, yet they do not deliver live data and are prone to errors.

Combination of multiple independent PM software suites within a single organization is yet another popular approach to handling hybrid portfolios. Each team uses its tool of choice or no tool at all. Without a single roof over several tools, it’s a daunting job to monitor the progress of the portfolio.

Set up a BigPicture account for each leader, or even each user in your organization. Grant relevant permissions.

Let all waterfall, hybrid, and agile teams use the Overview module to add:

  • Portfolios
  • Programs, Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Program Increments (PIs)
  • Iterations
  • Waterfall projects and Stages
  • Hybrid projects, Stages, and Iterations
  • Agile Projects and Iterations

Didn’t find your methodology in the list? Build custom [Boxes] with BigPicture Enterprise edition. Label them with the terminology used by your PM methodology.


Identify and track dependencies between initiatives within the portfolio

Are cork boards or a number of software programs used for planning within your organization? If so, you must have realized that dealing with cross-initiative or cross-team dependencies is cumbersome.

Traditional way BigPicture way
As products are becoming more complicated, industries – more regulated, and the markets – more saturated, so is increasing the significance of cross-initiative dependencies. How did organizations use to deal with dependencies between initiatives in the past? Presentations, cross-area meetings, or a separate data repository (a spreadsheet) all did the job but had the obvious flaw of not being live.  With all the users having access to BigPicture, dependencies can be made visible to everyone in at least two ways:

1. Build the hierarchical tree of the portfolio; use Overview module for that. Nest new initiatives in that tree-like structure.

2. Set up colored arrows in BigPicture’s Gantt chart and Board modules (see illustration above):

  • Timeline-based Gantt chart and timebox based Program Board both allow for drawing roundish arrows between tasks, stories, epics, or higher-level items.
  • If the ‘Gantt chart’ module name doesn’t sound agile enough, you can rename it to ‘Schedule’, ‘Plan’, ‘Roadmap’, or whatever name you prefer.
  • Start-to-end, start-to-start, end-to-end, end-to-start, as well as the fifth type – “soft” – dependencies, can be visualized.
  • A soft dependency will not affect a plan, nor will it prevent impossible relationships. Whereas the other four types are capable of rescheduling as many as a sequence of tasks in an effort to deal with a delay.


Set consistent reporting standards

In a multi-tool environment, each of the tools could have its own “reporting standards”. A portfolio manager then struggles, trying to unify the progress of initiatives that came from various software solutions. The manager could be forced into manual calculations, to produce a weekly report. Very few project management tools let a CEO monitor the progress of hybrid portfolios with a click of a mouse. BigPicture 8 does and here is how:

Traditional way BigPicture way
These are a few techniques we’ve seen clients using for monitoring the progress of hybrid portfolios, pre-BigPicture 8:

  • Spreadsheets
  • Complex BI systems
  • A separate reporting system for each project management tool used in an organization
  • Colored sticky notes advanced manually from the ‘to do’ column to ‘in progress’ to ‘done’ on large whiteboards (kanban boards). Nonmembers can visit the room to view and discuss progress.
Progress bars and task counts are ubiquitous in BigPicture. For the bird’s-eye view of the portfolio use the Overview module. It has that much-desired single progress bar and time spent/remaining counters at the company level.

Once at the Program Increment/iteration levels, use the Reports module to measure how the agile PIs and iterations are progressing.

Keep an eye on progress bars, task counts, or time counters in the Gantt chart, Scope, Roadmap, Board. These are effective trackers from a tiny sub-task up to the project level.


Risk management

Who should be concerned more about risks, than the CEO? It’s wise to have a common place where stakeholders can locate risk matrices and risk registers coming from various initiatives, projects, teams, branches, or areas of research. Again, PMO and top managers can rely on BigPicture. Each [Box] can have a risk matrix attached.

Traditional way BigPicture way
Traditionally, a spreadsheet would be used for the representation of project risks.

In a multi-tool environment, there could be a separate risk matrix for each project management application used in an organization.

PMO or team leaders create risk matrices/registers for selected, or all Boxes – projects, programs, stages, etc. You can label the axes and scale of each matrix according to your methodology, for instance, SAFe ROAM. You can allow stakeholders to access selected or all matrices/risk registers. There is a heatmap mode switch so the project managers can highlight high probability/consequence risks in a matrix.

Ensure data reliability

Have a look at the left, ‘Traditional way’, half of the table below. Noise imminent in manual data entry, a biased auditor, or even a periodically malfunctioning API – they all affect the quality of high-level reports. The much-discussed big picture of an organization could actually show a blurred picture. Data discrepancies occur when information is modified and processed manually at multiple levels, but there is a way around, as evident in the ‘BigPicture way’ pane.

Traditional way BigPicture way
Data comparability achieved with the following, classic tools, tends to be unreliable or expensive:

  • Manual entry, prone to errors and round numbers
  • Internal audits
  • Complex custom integrations via APIs
Teams keep the tools they love, such as Trello, Azure DevOps, or many Jira instances. BigPicture seamlessly integrates with the tools teams love. PMO and the top managers rely on BigPicture. BigPicture can be configured on how to aggregate or schedule tasks, statuses, and dependencies coming from the low-level planning tools. BigPicture produces high-quality bird’s-eye views, as no manual data manipulation is occurring between teams and report recipients.

Let teams keep the tools they love

An array of project management methodologies usually coexist within an organization. Few software planning tools available on the market will support every single methodology in that array. Sure, many software companies claim they will, but here is the reality:

  • modern software packages tend to pass over classic PM tools, such as the Gantt chart
  • few software packages are configurable enough to mirror real-life, custom-designed workflows or in-house PM methodologies
  • few PM tools exchange data with popular workhorses, such as Trello

Questioning any of the three? Dream, timeless tools must meet all three criteria, and here is why. The success of a large portfolio is a combination of two factors: (1) the commitment of teams, and (2) the reliability of high-level reports, which make the foundation for strategic decisions.

As for (1), chances are someone in your organization will appreciate that Gantt chart. Also, teams will love how the umbrella tool can adapt to their custom-developed, in-house workflows, rather than the teams adapting to the tool. Finally, some teams will elect to keep their beloved third-party tool, and that’s doable with BigPicture. As for the (2) that universe of agile and classic tools collectively deliver data for drillable portfolio-level reports.

We’ve designed BigPicture to meet all the above criteria. BigPicture has both agile and classic tools, such as the Gantt chart. BigPicture is extremely configurable and adaptable, especially with the [Boxes] of BigPicture 8. Finally, BigPicture can synchronize with third-party planning workhorses, such as Trello. — Let managers responsible for initiatives conduct those under principles relevant to methodologies they operate in using a management tool flexible enough to support all of those methodologies – concludes Olgierd Borowka, Head of Marketing at SoftwarePlant.

Traditional way BigPicture way
To operate a hybrid portfolio, a company normally employed not one but a number of planning tools. These programs did not keep in sync, however. To enjoy consistent and automated portfolio-level reports a company would have to force everyone into a single tool. BigPicture 8 can synchronize with Trello. Soon it’ll connect to other tools.

  • Connect Trello(s) to a [Box] (project, program, etc.) of your choice in BigPicture.
  • A team can continue planning their work in Trello, while the progress of that team will be available to BigPicture using PMO. Also, what teams do in Trello will influence the bird’s-eye view available in BigPicture.
  • You can even edit Trello tasks from within BigPicture.
  • Azure DevOps Server, as well as many Jira Cloud and Server instances, will soon be connectable to BigPicture.
  • This is why we call BigPicture an ‘umbrella’ app.


What agile companies practiced during 2000-2020 might no longer be relevant during the ‘Agile at enterprise’ period of 2020-30. One trend is companies are becoming hybrid – since agile is not the ultimate answer for routine operations, and research shows that classic projects and agile programs will have to get along in many portfolios. Another trend is allowing for not one, but a collection of project management applications within an organization, so that teams remain engaged and motivated. Umbrella portfolio management software, such as BigPicture 8, is a viable answer to the challenges of the 2020s.

1 Results Summary: Agile in the Enterprise, Bill Holz, Mike West, Gartner, July 2019 (updated October 2019)
2 Pulse of the Profession® 2018. Success in Disruptive Times. Expanding the Value Delivery Landscape to Address the High Cost of Low Performance, Project Management Institute
3 Agile Transformation. From Agile experiments to operating model transformation: How do you compare to others? 2019 Survey on Agility, KPMG
4 Pulse of the Profession® 2019. The future of work > Leading the way with PMTQ, Project Management Institute
5 Embracing Agile, Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, Hirotaka Takeuchi, Harvard Business Review, May 2016
6 Pulse of the Profession® 2020. Ahead of the Curve: Forging a Future-Focused Culture, Project Management Institute
7 Portfolios of Agile Projects. A Complex Adaptive Systems’ Agent Perspective, Roger Sweetman, Kieran Conboy, PMI, December 2018


About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.